Is the “selling club” tag for Arsenal correct?

Arsenal's Emirates Stadium

I’m sure the “club in crisis” headlines were out in full force this week, as Arsenal succumbed to another 0-0 loss (yes, I will continue to wheel out that ridiculous joke until it becomes tired beyond just my articles). Two big name players have departed the club, while Theo Walcott now looks to be oooing and ahhhing over a new contract. A club in crisis? Sure, you can spin it that way if you like. A selling club, with the accuser holding a straight face? Far from it.

When you look at clubs who genuinely are “selling clubs,” you tend to think of clubs who are well down the power ladder in their respective league. They are the clubs who have to sell to stay afloat, as financial problems or commitments dictate them to do so. But even with Arsenal’s debt on the Emirates Stadium, the club are really not logically worthy of such a damning moniker.

Objectively, and certainly in the view of the larger audience, Arsenal have consistently been brought to their knees by much more wealthy clubs who are intent on pillaging and looting all that is valuable at London Colney. Arsenal have seen a host of captains leave the clubs since the move to the Emirates, as well as Patrick Vieira just prior. The team have lost top scorers, heartbeats, icons, and yet the club remain stubborn in their position as consistent Champions League participants. As yet, not even all those who have come to destroy what is good in the red half of north London have been able to stop Arsenal challenging for a top four place.

But the argument that Arsenal are indeed a selling club still holds some water. They’re powerless to the advances of the clubs with greater financial backing (and I will continue to dance around the term “bigger club” for obvious reasons). Arsenal are a club not moving forward and their players and many supporters know that is the view banded around.

However, what many, many people fail to recognise is the real cause of Arsenal’s position in European football.

If we were to go inside the club and shut the door and close the curtains, Arsenal are an incredibly well-run club. I’ve always disagreed with the wage structure and the fact that the club find themselves in contract trouble each summer. But, which other major club in Europe has self-funded a move into a bigger stadium with the view to long-term financial security? Arsenal haven’t moved to the Emirates with the backing of oil money, but rather by their own doing and the need to move the club forward. Yet unfortunately, it’s the oil money injections over Europe which is praised somewhat.

With that move, Arsene Wenger has had to readjust his business in the transfer market. Robin van Persie may have been injured for much of his Arsenal career, but landing a Premier League top scorer and double player of the year award winner for just under £3 million was a work of genius. Likewise, Cesc Fabregas came in for little to nothing as a teenager and was transformed into the best midfielder in England. Gael Clichy arrived as a nobody to serve as back up to Ashley Cole, yet he left as a proven Premier League left-back.

What so many fail to recognise is that Arsenal didn’t choose for Manchester City or PSG to distort the transfer market and offer ridiculous wages that an ordinary club wouldn’t dare to match. It’s not Arsenal’s fault that Darren Dein popped up and decided to destroy all the good work his father and Arsene Wenger have done over the past 15-years. And it’s certainly not Arsenal’s fault that clubs like Barcelona have been able to avoid previously agreed upon terms with regards to repaying banks, thus allowing them to court and follow through on deals for Arsenal’s best players.

The contract situation is still worthy of bringing up as it is a great flaw in Arsenal’s running of the club. But, if van Persie or Samir Nasri had three-plus years on their contracts and were settled, would Arsenal really have given in to the advances of Manchester City and Manchester United? Why would they? The club don’t need to sell in order to stay afloat, as the revenue from the Champions League allows them to break even.

Arsenal are quietly getting on with their financial commitments behind the scenes while allowing the club to remain competitive in the league. The Queensland Road development is helping move things along, and it won’t be too long before Arsenal have a new set of revenue streams through kit sponsors. But many supporters will question how competitive a team is if they only finish third or fourth each year. Well I’m sure Spurs, Liverpool, Everton, Newcastle and many, many more would love to swap their recent league positions with Arsenal’s.

Graham Hunter recently made an excellent observation that Arsenal are not a selling club but rather a trading club. And who can really disagree with that? Yes, Arsenal do continue to “only” finish in the top four, but isn’t that a great achievement considering Wenger has to patch up his squad each year and more or less start from scratch because of summer outgoings?

If Theo Walcott leaves this week, then Arsenal will undoubtedly look to replace him. Jesus Navas has been linked with the club, but while I believe he’d be a great addition to the squad, I just don’t see him moving away from Seville right now, if ever. It took Arsenal a year but they have finally replaced Fabregas via the introduction of Santi Cazorla. Olivier Giroud is the body to replace van Persie as the starting striker, but he’ll obviously need time to adjust and establish himself. Alex Song’s replacement is being searched for, and there’s still a likelihood that Arsenal will emerge from this summer with their net summer spending in the black.

No other big club have the smarts to pick up a Fabregas and turn him into what he is today. But Arsenal sold their best midfielder in Vieira and trusted the talents of a smaller but much more technically gifted teenager. As Graham Hunter says, it’s trading, but it’s incredibly smart trading and certainly not without risks.

The point is, it’s difficult and greatly unwarranted to accuse Arsenal of lacking ambition or the ability to hang onto their stars when there are outside elements beyond the club’s control. Yes, the club have had to sell their best players, but so do Spurs, Liverpool and even Manchester United. Arsenal are not selling their players because they need to pay off debt. Barcelona, meanwhile, were forced to sell Dmytro Chygrynskiy back to Shakhtar for half the fee they paid only a year earlier. It was nothing to do with him not being a good player or not valued; simply, the club could not afford to hold onto him.

If Arsenal need to move their players on because they don’t want to hand out £220,000-a-week to a 29-year old striker who has a dodgy injury record and one good season, then that’s absolutely fine. Paint the words “selling club” in every colour over the Emirates Stadium. But it doesn’t make sense to hand out that sort of contract and it never will. I’m sure Arsenal are happier knowing their club are moving on steadily and not playing a hand in this unnecessary reshaping of European football.